Inscribing African descendant identity in nineteenth century Cuba: The transculturated literature of Juan Francisco Manzano and Gabriel de la Concepcion Valdes

Posted in Caribbean/Latin America, Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2012-02-29 14:42Z by Steven

Inscribing African descendant identity in nineteenth century Cuba: The transculturated literature of Juan Francisco Manzano and Gabriel de la Concepcion Valdes

Michigan State University
260 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3435282
ISBN: 9781124337340

Matthew Joseph Pettway

This dissertation explores how Juan Francisco Manzano and Gabriel de la Concepcion Valdés (also known as Plácido) appropriated Hispanic literature to inscribe an African descendant subjectivity in nineteenth century proto-nationalist Cuban discourse. I revise Mary Louise Pratt’s notion of “intercultural texts” and Ángel Rama’s “literary transculturation”, proposing “transculturated colonial literature” to trace the contradictions, re-significations, silences and shifts in the aesthetic and ideological function of Manzano and Plácido’s texts. As such, nineteenth century Afro-Cuban literature is analyzed as an active space of negotiation and exchange disputing racial and religious hierarchies to inscribe an Afro-Cuban religio-cultural subject. Through the analysis of Africa-based spirituality and race, I conclude that both Manzano and Plácido disrupted the aesthetic and ideological norms of the colonial status quo by producing what I consider to be the first instance of literary transculturation in Cuba.

After the close reading of poems, letters, self-narratives, and court testimonies, my findings are twofold. First, the construction of a mulatto-Catholic persona by writers of African descent is a politically driven representation legitimating their tenuous association with white cultural elites in charge of disseminating their literature. The portrait of Afro-Caribbean characters that emerges from their writings not only re-signifies racialized bodies but also functions as a disputation of the dominant colonial gaze. Secondly, Manzano and Plâcido produced a transculturated religious subject embedded in Africa-based rituals, and able to subvert normative ecclesiastical practice through the construction of new meanings.

My research contributes to Latin American studies by revealing that Manzano and Plácido’s literature does not amount to mimicry of white culture, instead their work juxtaposes Afro-Cuban and Hispano-Catholic practices, subverts the institutional authority of the Church and challenges colonial racial discourse while lending itself to sometimes contradictory but equally plausible interpretations. In this way, my project proposes a new way of reading Afro-Cuban colonial writing that privileges the construction of subjectivities over colonial strategies of subjugation.

The comparison of Manzano and Plácido’s racial and religious self-inscriptions in early nineteenth century literature reveals important dissimilarities. Whereas Plácido’s lyrical persona avoided racial self-description—only classifying as a pardo in the course of legal proceedings—Manzano identified with the unattainable inbetweeness of a mixed-race identity. With regard to Africa-derived spirituality, Manzano’s lyrical voice and narrative persona renders a highly autobiographical account of apparitions, ancestral reunion and rituals to draw upon the power of spirits, while Plácido’s poetic voice does not refer to himself, instead portraying the Afro-Cuban confraternity as collective space for sacred practice that proclaims the judgment to befall colonial slave society.

Order the dissertation here.

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The Octoroon

Posted in Arts, Live Events, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2012-02-29 05:01Z by Steven

The Octoroon

The Georgetown Theatre Company
North, South, Race & Class: A Staged Reading Series of 19th century Plays at Grace Church
1041 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C.
Wednesday, 2012-02-29, 19:30 EST (Local Time)

The Octoroon (by Dion Boucicault) was one of the biggest hits of mid-19th century American theatre. It is the story of a beautiful mixed-race girl raised as white; when her father dies in debt, she is sold as property. Like the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Octoroon sensationalized the peril of a young slave woman at the hands of an evil white man. The play also serves as an apology for aristocratic slave-owners by presenting them as kindly and broad-minded, while the lower-class white characters were depicted as vicious, lecherous immigrants. These stereotypes persisted is Southern literature until well into the 20th century.

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“Freedom By A Judgment”: The Legal History of an Afro-Indian Family

Posted in Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Law, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2012-02-29 04:17Z by Steven

“Freedom By A Judgment”: The Legal History of an Afro-Indian Family

Law and History Review
Volume 30, Issue 1 (February 2012)
pages 173-203
DOI: 10.1017/S0738248011000642

Honor Sachs, Assistant Professor of History
Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, North Carolina

Forum: Ab Initio: Law in Early America

On May 2, 1771, John Hardaway of Dinwiddie County, Virginia posted a notice in the Virginia Gazette about a runaway slave. The notice was ordinary, blending in with the many advertisements for escaped slaves, servants, wives, and horses that filled the classified section of the Gazette in the eighteenth century. Like countless other advertisements posted in newspapers wherever slaves were held, Hardaway’s advertisement read: “Run away from the subscriber, a dark mulatto man slave named Bob Colemand, 25 years old, tall, slim, and well made, wears his own hair pretty long, his foretop combed very high, a blacksmith by trade, claimed his freedom under pretense of being of an Indian extraction.”

Read or purchase the article here.

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Berlin marks Black History Month but the struggle goes on

Posted in Articles, Europe, Media Archive, Social Science, Women on 2012-02-29 03:19Z by Steven

Berlin marks Black History Month but the struggle goes on

Deutsche Welle

Anne Thomas

Berlin has become more diverse and the situation for Afro-Germans has improved, but it’s still hard to get a job or an apartment. Black History Month highlights the challenges faced by over 2 percent of the population.

A black Portuguese friend of mine once dated an African-American guy she had met in her favorite bar. “We were so surprised to see another black person, we instantly gravitated towards each other,” they told me, laughing. They were able to joke, but for many Afro-Germans, it has been a lonely struggle.

Although I live in Neukölln—reportedly Berlin’s most diverse district with inhabitants from 160 countries—I am always struck by how white the city seems compared to other European capitals. I have never seen a black doctor, civil servant, yoga teacher, ticket collector, bus driver, pharmacist, plumber, policewoman, librarian… Most of the black people I know are from the US, UK, Nigeria, Senegal, Brazil or Portugal.
As a white foreigner in Germany, I sometimes find it difficult here and am very aware of my differences. However, I cannot really imagine what it must be like to constantly be considered exotic, just because of a different skin color.

Remembering May Ayim

So this year’s Black History Month in Berlin has been especially fascinating. The Initiative of Black People in Germany (ISD) introduced this annual event in 1990, the year of German reunification, which Afro-German poet and activist May Ayim described as a celebration “without immigrants, refugees, Jewish or black people.”

To date, many in Germany maintain the country has a very insignificant colonial history and racism is not an issue. Ayim (1960 – 1996), whose father was Ghanaian and mother German, suffered from this ignorance and co-founded the ISD to change attitudes and work towards a non-racist Germany…

…Introducing Afro-Germans

Micosse-Aikins also praised the fact that Berlin had changed for the better as a result of the work of May Ayim and her fellow panelist, the historian and activist Katharina Oguntoye, who was born in Zwickau to a white German mother and a black Nigerian father.

When Caribbean-American writer, poet and activist Audre Lorde arrived in Berlin in 1984, she looked for other black women and found mainly isolated individuals, including Ayim and Oguntuye. She encouraged them to write a book.

“She said we should introduce ourselves to each other and to the world,” recalled Oguntoye, adding that this was an extremely daunting task for two women in their early 20s, but one they felt equipped to perform.

The result was “Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out,” a groundbreaking combination of historical analysis, interviews, personal testimonies and poetry that explored racism in Germany and was published in German in 1986…

Read the entire article here.

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Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992

Posted in Biography, Europe, Gay & Lesbian, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Videos, Women on 2012-02-28 22:16Z by Steven

Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992

Third World Newsreel
84 minutes
English/German with English Subtitles

Dagmar Schultz

2012 marks the 20th anniversary of Audre Lorde’s passing, the acclaimed Black lesbian feminist poet and activist. Throughout the 70s and 80s, Lorde’s incisive writings and speeches defined and inspired the women of color, feminist and LGBT social justice movements in the United States.

Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992  explores a little-known chapter of the writer’s prolific life, a period in which she helped ignite the Afro-German Movement and made lasting contributions to the German political and cultural scene before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the German reunification.

Lorde mentored and encouraged Black German women to write and publish as a way of asserting their identities, rights and culture in a society that isolated and silenced them, while challenging white German women to acknowledge their white  privilege. As Lorde wrote in her book Our Dead Behind Us: Poems, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992 contains previously unreleased audiovisual material from director Dagmar Schultz’s personal archive, showing Lorde on and off stage. With testimony from Lorde’s colleagues, students and friends, this film documents Lorde’s lasting legacy in Germany.

See the Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992 Study Guide here.

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Hope in My Heart: The May Ayim Story

Posted in Biography, Europe, Identity Development/Psychology, Videos, Women on 2012-02-28 20:57Z by Steven

Hope in My Heart: The May Ayim Story

Third World Newsreel
28 minutes
German with English Subtitles

Maria Binder

A moving documentary about the life and untimely death of Ghanaian-German poet, academic and political personality May Ayim. Ayim was one of the founders of the Black German Movement, and her research on the history of Afro-Germans, but also her political poetry, made her known in Germany and other countries.

Ayim wrote in the tradition of oral poetry and felt a strong connection to other black poets of the diaspora. Poetry gave her an opportunity to confront the white German society with its own prejudices.

Interviews and poems reveal the search for identity, how and why the term Afro-German was introduced. An insightful look at how a young black woman experiences the German reunification.

In the foreword to Ayim’s Blues in Schwarz Weiß (Blues in Black and White), Maryse Conde wrote “… With the unmistakable sound of her voice her poems spoke to me of her, told of others that are like her and yet so unlike her in Germany, in Africa, in America. These poems held passion and irony … In May’s voice I found the echo of other voices from the diaspora.”

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Searching for a new soul in Harlem

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2012-02-28 17:44Z by Steven

Searching for a new soul in Harlem

Gender News
The Clayman Institute for Gender Research
Stanford University

Annelise Heinz, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History
Stanford University

Allyson Hobbs on passing and racial ambiguity during the Harlem Renaissance

Harlem in the 1920s is known for its creative outpouring of art, music, and literature. A consciously political movement, the Harlem Renaissance was a cultural response to the dehumanizing limitations of Jim Crow, blackface minstrelsy, and economic disenfranchisement.

Early-20th-century America was organized along strict racial demarcations within a white supremacist world. Black authors like Alain Locke promoted a vision of the empowered “New Negro,” imbued with race pride. Ironically, during the same era that explicitly embraced a black identity, an extensive audience grew for literature focused on racial passing – stories about individuals of mixed-race heritage who passed as white.

For historian Allyson Hobbs, passing literature “functioned as a literary vehicle to critique racism and to draw attention to the absurdity of the American racial condition.” Yet, Hobbs also asserts that passing “opened a space for a fuller consideration of complex relationships within African American group identity.”

In this moment of celebrating African American culture, Jean Toomer and Nella Larsen, literary luminaries in the Harlem Renaissance, struggled with definitions of race. As individuals with mixed European and African ancestry, race structured the ways others saw them and shaped the choices available to them. Hobbs examines their personal and professional writings to argue for the diversity of mixed-race experiences and self-identities, which have largely been obscured or forgotten in the literature on passing…

Read the entire article here.

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The ‘white’ slave children of New Orleans: Images of pale mixed-race slaves used to drum up sympathy among wealthy donors in 1860s

Posted in Articles, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2012-02-28 16:09Z by Steven

The ‘white’ slave children of New Orleans: Images of pale mixed-race slaves used to drum up sympathy among wealthy donors in 1860s

Daily Mail


When eight former slaves aimed to drum up support for struggling African-American schools in the 1860s, they believed they had just the thing.

In order to garner sympathy – and funds – from rich northerners as they toured the country, organisers from New Orleans portrayed the slaves as white for a propaganda campaign, using four children with mixed-race ancestry and pale complexions.

They believed the white faces of Charles Taylor, Rebecca Huger, Rosina Downs and Augusta Broujey would encourage donors to sympathise with the plight of recently-emancipated slaves and give more generously…

…They soon discovered it was near-impossible to find sympathy and support in a war-torn and racially-prejudiced county…

Read the entire article and view 11 other photographs here.

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Pruning the Family Tree

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Slavery, United States on 2012-02-28 03:51Z by Steven

Pruning the Family Tree

Vassar: The Alumnae/i Quarterly
Volume 99, Issue 3 (Summer 2003)
Online Additions
Vassar College
Poughkeepsie, New York

Virginia Edwards Castro ’64
Blanco, Texas

When I was in grade school my family subscribed to the Saturday Evening Post. There was a cover I will never forget. It was an illustrated family tree, with pirates, dandies, Yankees, confederates, Indians, Puritans, cowboys, dance hall floozies and a Spanish lady with a comb and a mantilla. At the top, like a shining star, was a little redheaded, freckle-faced, blue-eyed all-American boy. The cover wasn’t big enough to include everyone. For example, I don’t recall any kilted men playing bagpipes or Germans in lederhosen. And had there been room, not even Norman Rockwell would have dared to include African slaves.

In the fifties, my family had not yet acquired a television, which they considered a health hazard and a waste of time and money, so I amused myself by playing board games, making scrapbooks, reading books, and my favorite activity-Sunday snooping. I spent weekends at my grandparents’ home, which had five bedrooms, four servants’ rooms, a study, a den, storage rooms, a billiards room, a ballroom, a pantry, the breakfast room, the dining room, the living room, the parlor, the coal room and the laundry room. The dining room had a huge buffet containing secret compartments. My grandmother’s dressing room contained an iron safe built into the wall, worthy of a country bank. My grandfather’s bedroom had a jewelry safe behind an oil painting of a landscape. And the huge buffet in the dining room had several secret compartments. I knew where every key hung and every combination.

The large entry hall with a grand piano ended in a staircase that divided on the landing before it continued upstairs on either side. The walls were covered with family portraits, as were the walls of the ballroom on the third floor. I memorized the identities of all our relatives, living and dead. The library contained volumes of family trees to go with them. The Poages were of Scotch-Irish origin. They were said to go back to the 1300’s to “a mighty Gael named Thorl who slew a would-be assassin of the king”. He was knighted Earl of the Poage, which was variously interpreted as “poke” referring to the blow he dealt, or also “poke”, referring to the kiss bestowed on him by a grateful king. The list of descendents went all the way to my mother, I recall. Their coat-of-arms on the wall featured two wild boars rampant, with the motto “Fortuna Favet Fortibus” (fortune favors the brave.)

A Poage married a Starke, a descendent of General Starke who fought in the Revolution. His portrait was said to hang in the White House. (If it did, it must be in the basement, a victim of remodeling.) My great grandfather was named Return Jefferson Starke, if that is any indication of what side the Starkes were in the Civil War. I remember coming across a portrait of one of the two families in a confederate uniform with a notation of membership in the Ku Klux Klan. Unfortunately, even at my young age my awareness of the meaning of this activated the censor in my mind, and I can’t recall the details. It was this same censorship in reverse which suppressed all memories of other races in our family.

I always suspected something was missing, although at first-to use a well-worn but appropriate metaphor-I barked up the wrong tree. First, there was the portrait of what appeared to be an Italian noblewoman in the place of honor over the mantel in the library. Since my mother and her father both looked Italian, we assumed this was our ancestor. However, my grandmother finally confessed that, lacking a suitable portrait, she had purchased this one at an art auction, when an art curator attending a party at their home correctly identified it as the portrait of a famous Italian courtesan. (After some lengthy family debate, it stayed there, as a work of art.)

Rummaging through the forbidden recesses of my grandfather’s roll top desk, I found references to his mother’s family, the Tongs. I then assumed we had Chinese ancestry until I learned that Tong, variously spelled Tonge and Tongue, was an old English name. There was a letter from my great aunt Flora claiming that she descended from French Huguenots who changed their name from d’Estaing to De Tongue when they moved to England. Whether this is true or not, there are documents and books that show we descended from a William Tongue who fought in the Revolution. In his late seventies he was forced to ride all the way from Missouri to Washington D.C. to see why he was not receiving his pension. I learned that the Tongues, who later shortened their surname to Tong, were on the union side. Another letter from my great aunt Flora stated that grandfather William, in his blue velvet suit with white ruffled collar, cried at the fact that brothers would fight brothers and cousins, against cousins.

My father’s name was Joseph Castro Edwards. Most of my life I was considered to have Hispanic roots-particularly by those aware of the Spanish tradition of the second name being the father’s surname and the last in sequence being the mother’s. Instead, I found out my father was named after Dr. Jose Gabino Castro (by my grandfather, unaware of the aforementioned tradition) in honor of a Filipino doctor who saved my grandfather’s life when he was a prisoner in the jungle for eight months during the Spanish-American war in the Philippines. As my grandfather later told me, the opposing general sent a messenger with the order to “let the enemy soldier die, by the order of the highest authority.” The doctor humbly explained he had to obey even higher orders to save a human life. When asked who might be the higher authority, he replied, “Almighty God.” (Fortunately, the general was a religious man, or I wouldn’t be writing this.)…

…We found a tiny town with antiques so old they were worthy of New England. I asked a man in the antique store if he had ever heard of the Bedell family. “Of course,” he replied. “If you want to know about them, go next door to the president of the local historical society.” From there, things progressed rapidly. We found her unloading bags of groceries. “You will be pleased to know that we just had a ceremony honoring your family at the old cemetery held by Sons of the Revolution.” She put down a bag. “You may not be so pleased to know something else about your family.” She looked at me carefully. I hoped we were not part of the James gang. Maybe it was Wild Bill Hickock, lived there for a while and shot some poor, unsuspecting soul. I waited. “Your family was mixed race.” I released a small sigh of relief. “I know, my father already told me he was part Cherokee. “ Surprised, she replied, “I don’t know about the Cherokee, but your great great grandmother was a slave.” That, indeed, hit home…

Read the entire article here.

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Hybrid Identities and Adolescent Girls: Being ‘Half’ in Japan [Review: Shigematsu]

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Identity Development/Psychology, Women on 2012-02-28 02:48Z by Steven

Hybrid Identities and Adolescent Girls: Being ‘Half’ in Japan

Social Science Japan Journal
Published Online: 2012-01-19
DOI: 10.1093/ssjj/jyr053

Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu
Stanford University

Hybrid Identities and Adolescent Girls: Being ‘Half’ in Japan, by Laurel D. Kamada. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters, 2009, 272 pp., (hardcover ISBN 978-1-84769-233-7), (paperback ISBN 978-1-84769-232-0)

I hated it when I was little … the school trip photo … only MY face was somehow different, so I hated that, and now … it’s like it’s good, I guess.

Hybrid Identities and Adolescent Girls captures the raw voices of teenage girls, revealing their intimate feelings about being ‘half ’ in Japan. Laurel Kamada gives us a rich account of adolescent development and identity construction, based on group interviews with six girls of mixed ancestry, presenting their actual voices in conversations with her and each other. Kamada takes up three central questions: (a) tensions and dilemmas of hybridity, (b) celebration of hybridity, and (c) the intersection of hybridity and gender. Her study is informed and inspired by her insider knowledge of the data collection site of Western Japan, and her long residences living, working, and raising her own mixed-ancestry child there. She is careful to position herself as a white, Western woman and acknowledges how she influences the research through reflexive commentary.

The girls are a population rarely heard from—public school students from intact families, with one Japanese parent and one non-Japanese (white-foreign) parent. They are from families who made a conscious decision to raise them by integrating them into Japanese society through education at regular local Japanese schools, rather than sending them to private international schools. Historically, this is a major dilemma for mixed-ancestry children, going back to Miki Sawada’s famous Saunders Home, where she raised and educated children after World War II, and continuing up to the recent Amerasian School in Okinawa. The controversy of whether mixed-ancestry children should be educated in public schools or in special schools has been not only an issue of race but also of class, with those whose families could afford it opting for the friendlier, more comfortable environment of international schools,…

Read or purchase the review here.

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